What next for Fletcher, you ask? With India being out of international action for the next three months at the least, it could well mean a good healthy retreat back to Cape Town, back to his farms and dogs. Alternatively, he could well take the hard route of returning to his workplace, and use this break to primarily seek out his bosses and collectively introspect his tough year India have endured in international cricket. I’d hope for the latter, but I am guessing the former seems to be the more practical possibility. But either way, the space in India’s cricketing calendar provides ample time for Fletcher not just ponder over what might have been, but hopefully, consider what he could do next.
There’s almost a clarion, shrilling call for transition in India’s cricketing circles and one would imagine that Fletcher has this unenviable task of smoothly overseeing that process. And thankfully, Rahul Dravid has called it time and has rightly decided to move on. Also coinciding with Dravid’s departure from the Indian setup is the expeditious emergence of Virat Kohli, whose performances in the last 20 months or so has been nothing short of exceptional. Next in line could well be VVS Laxman, and if and when he takes the rather easy decision, India will have to bite the bullet and get going with his successor’s replacement.
Yes, as far as batting talents go, there’s an awful lot of back-up coming through the system, with and without international experience. Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma’s names will be thrown around on a regular basis and whoever gets the nod will almost instantly have to perform and consistently so. This not just presents Fletcher with an interesting challenge, but also, puts him in familiar territory.
In 2005, when Graham Thorpe exited English cricket ahead of the first Ashes Test at Lords, Fletcher called for Kevin Pietersen to be picked ahead of Ian Bell because he insisted on a No. 5 who could not just consolidate strong positions, but dominate bowling attacks with a degree of aggression. Rohit and Pujara, both though not in the same league as KP, should be credible frontrunners for that No. 5 position going by Fletcher’s “theory”. If anything, the fact that India play most of their cricket at home over the next 18 months should facilitate for the smooth transition by itself, especially given this belief that India should blood their youngsters at home before they’re exposed abroad.
One of the fundamental disappointments of the Fletcher era thus far, perhaps owing to tight schedules is the lack of interaction with the grassroot cricketing system within the country. A specific incident comes to mind. When India returned from England, Fletcher went home, skipping the Irani Trophy, where the Rest of India teams of yore were trained by national head coaches. But, this could yet change, given India’s home-heavy schedules in the next 18 months or so.
This would mean visiting specific domestic matches involving fringe players, giving the coaching staff additional opportunities to scout for specific aspects of the game in a match situation. It would also involve working closely with the National Cricket Academy, India’s U-19 and developmental squads. During this time, India’s ‘A’ team will be revived after a gap of two years and embark on a tour to the West Indies. Ideally, the BCCI must send Fletcher with the team not as coach but an observer, a scout to get a closer view of India’s bench strength and assess some of his wards.
The more interesting challenge comes with the bowling department, where Joe Dawes’ appointment couldn’t have been timed better. Both Dawes and Fletcher would at the least be required to assemble a bowling unit (not an attack) which would comprise of 10-15 bowlers at the bare minimum. This should involve what Fletcher himself calls an “intense” and “investigative” process of selection, keeping in touch with the line of thinking he seeks to promote i.e. pace. Interestingly, that is where Dawes’ temperate influence comes in, especially as someone who’s helped mentor some of the best young quicks in Queensland and South Australia. Talking of transition, it’s also time India start identifying an able replacement for Zaheer Khan, who at 33, doesn’t have a long international career ahead.
The next year or so will seek to define what the Fletcher era is going to really be about. For one, it’s a fairly exciting time to be an Indian coach, as unpopular as it may sound, given the results. This is because it’s got to a stage where certain things you’ve tried haven’t worked. This could well be time the time Fletcher starts demonstrating a certain degree of flexibility in his thinking, gradually ditching some of those three-decade old theories, and shelve that stubbornness, which surely doesn’t quite work in India and in a quiet little way rediscover himself as a coach. If ever Fletcher needed a good time to sit down and chalk India’s cricketing roadmap for the next five years or so, it’s now. For that to happen though, the dogs and the farm must wait.